“Your Success Does Not Tarnish My Success”: Reflections from 2016 Cultivate & Connect

The post below has been re-published with permission from Darleen Sichely and GuernseyDairyMama.com.

This past year has been all about connections for me. Forging new ones, building on old friendships, I have really come to value the connections I have walked away with from the numerous events I was lucky enough to attend in 2016. Cultivate and Connect Conference was no different!

Cultivate and Connect ConferenceThe two day conference is the AgChat Foundation’s yearly national gathering. As one speaker put it, it’s the world series of agvocacy with all the biggest names in the room. It was the first time attending the national conference as my schedule has only allowed for two of the western regional meetings before. The caliber in the room definitely did not disappoint. It was so fun to meet so many people in real life that I had been following in social media for some time!

The opening keynote speaker Vance Crowe probably had my favorite message I took home from the Cultivate and Connect conference. Vance said “if you can grow up to be anything then you have to be something!” In this day and age of endless opportunity we need to capitalize on what makes each one of us a unique individual. While building your core tribe, the very heart of who you are, is important. Letting your curiosity lead you to the edges of your interests will open you up to whole new tribes of people. Connecting with them on shared values will in turn align your loyalties. Once you have this place of trust and commonality of your new tribe you can bring them back to connect with your agriculture tribe. Long story short as 2% of the population we as farmers have to be connecting with the consumers on their levels. The easiest way to do that is to connect on those levels that are not connected to agriculture. Don’t preach to the choir, build your non-Ag tribe!

That message really resonated throughout the whole conference for me and gave me the drive and motivation to really focus my attentions on my focus audience. Leah Beyer – Beyer Beware really hit home the idea of reaching out of to your non-Ag tribe by showing the topics that were closest to food in social media conversation. Guess what, agriculture and farmers are on the complete opposite side of the food conversation! That was eye opening to me, as fashion & beauty were the next closest to food, then wine & beer and parenting.  Missy Morgan from Common Ground really highlighted the parenting conversation importance for me with the reminder that Moms are making 86% of household food decisions. With my energy renewed I am ready to engage with my Mom tribe in impactful conversations. Those conversations really take place and make a real impact when there’s trust. Trust isn’t built on facts and figures but inclusive, positive, credible and real stories.

Another of my favorite general sessions was hearing Greg Peterson from Peterson Farm Bros. These awesome agvocates are best known for their fun music parody videos. Video is by far the most effective mode of engagement currently and it is awesome to see their success. But beyond sharing their success, Greg had a very important message he brought back from all his travels around the world, Diversity. Diversity is one of the stories of agriculture, (in fact one of my favorites) but it is also the story of consumers. There are so many choices in the American grocery stores and so many personal and cultural drivers to each individuals buying preferences. All the diversity in agriculture is something there is plenty of room for all to support. Conventional, organic, GMOs, no-till, intensive farming, that diversity is something to celebrate and support no matter where we stand. He really brought it home though that “all over the world the farm family is the same”. At the core of all the diversity and choices is the farmers feeding the world.  And we got to enjoy him perform “I’m Farming and I Grow It” in person! :-)

Shifting into that consumer gear we enjoyed a good food consumer panel with two dieticians, a chef and a food blogger. They shared great insights into how consumers preconceived notions really do piece together their thinking. I loved for the dieticians and the blogger that their biggest turn around came after visiting farms in person! Really sank in the importance of how it really does make a difference to take the time for people to see first hand your operation. Even better are those consumers who already have a following and can share their experience with their readers, amplifying your own story. Cara Harbstreet – Street Smart Nutrition gave us all a good laugh when our discussions turned to consumer choices and definitions of clean eating “My definition of clean eating is anything that doesn’t have dirt on it…..my clients have a different definition” Dieticians role in the young science of the nutritional world is really meeting clients where they are at. While they try to present the science behind tough subjects at the end of the day it is really emotional and personal choices that drive consumers buying decisions.

Our second panel was on issues in agvocacy with Leah Beyer – Beyer Beware, Krista Stauffer – The Farmer’s Wifee, Cristen Clark – Food and Swine and Chef Alli – Farm Fresh Kitchen. Leah hit the nail on the head with the statement “your success doesn’t tarnish my success”. A general theme of being proud of yourself, your story and not bringing negativity into your conversation or others really shined through the entire panel. There’s not room to be unsupportive of each other when we are such a small percentage of the conversation that is taking place!

Cultivate and Connect Conference

Lastly the breakout sessions were also top notch. I learned about Snapchat, video tips and advise for success, engaging with and building relationships with the media and apps and ideas to let your pictures really help tell your story. Erin Brenneman – Sow Momma who led the photography breakout that I attended left me with an important reminder of why I am agvocating in the first place. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” My Story, the History of our farm and all the Passion behind it really is the Why that I need to be sharing as an agvocate.

Overall I left Cultivate and Connect Conference refreshed and ready to dive back into agvocacy with a full cup. Sometimes it is so important to take the time for the thing we need for ourselves. Selfish has long been a bad word, but as I get older I see the value in it so much more. The conference even included some much needed fun and laughter that just deepened the connections. I really appreciate all the hard work the AgChat Foundation puts in to support those of us sharing our farm stories. Even if PDX weather kept me in Missouri for 36 extra hours, I really did have an amazing experience.

Cultivate and Connect Conference, I came home understanding what an appropriate name that was for the event!

Passion over Perfection: Reflection of 2016 Cultivate & Connect

This is a guest post from ACF volunteer Hannah Neuenschwander, who has granted permission for her post to be re-published on AgChat.org

At AgChat’s 2016 Cultivate & Connect Conference I expected to learn how to become a better advocate for agriculture. As usual, my expectations were blown out of the water. I learned many valuable things about engineering networks, telling my story, and effective ways to engage with the public, to name a few.


However, during my lengthy drive home from Kansas City I realized I also learned a few things I wasn’t expecting – deeper things that apply to life just as much as they do to “AgVocacy.” Here are some of the lessons I learned at AgChat:

1. Never give up

Of all the speakers I was looking forward to hearing from at the conference, Amberley Snyder was at the top of my list. She didn’t disappoint and the message she delivered for the closing keynote was an important one: never give up. Sure, we’ve all heard that before, but hearing it come from a person who embodies the very essence of perseverance and determination gave it a different ring. As she spoke, the room of over 150 people was completely captivated and I swear you could’ve heard a pin drop.

Amberley SnyderWhen Amberley was 19 years old, the competitive barrel racer was involved in an accident that left her paralyzed from the waist down. Against all odds, she’s not only able to ride again, but she’s out there competing and winning.

If you decide to say “I’m done,” you are.

No one gets to chose what obstacles life throws their way, but we do get to chose our attitude and how we handle them.  This clearly has implications in life, but in AgVocacy this means we can choose to take the high road, we can chose to be positive in the face of aggressive negativity, and we can choose to gracefully bow out of dead-end conversations with people who’ve already made up their minds. It’s easy to get beaten down and feel the situation is hopeless at times, but we can also chose to never give up. Indeed, I don’t think a single one of us can afford to. In the end, this does more to define us than any given circumstance ever could.

2. Pull each other along

On the second day of the conference, Leah Beyer shared a piece of applause-worthy advice during the Issues in AgVocacy panel:

We have to pull each other along and help each other out. Your success does not tarnish my success.

As advocates for agriculture, we have to recognize our shared values and come together on common ground like we always preach. During the live filming of the SharkWire podcast, Rob Sharkey pointed out there isn’t a monopoly on AgVocacy. There isn’t just one right way to do it and we should want all of our peers to be successful no matter what path they chose. It’s not about who can be the best voice or the poster child for agriculture because we need every single voice we can get. When it comes down to it, success for one of us is success for all of us.

I can’t help but think how true this rings in life as well.

3. Don’t minimize your role

You may not know it from my activity on social media, but sometimes I struggle finding my place in advocating for agriculture because I don’t farm and I wasn’t raised on a farm. It’s not that anyone has ever made me feel like I don’t have a place to speak up, it’s that I respect what farmers do so much I don’t ever want to misrepresent myself, or them. So I found myself nodding along as Leah spoke with a similar sentiment, saying she considered herself a farm wife, not a farmHer (a clever word like AgVocacy used to describe a female farmer.) However, Cristen Clark was quick to speak up:

Don’t minimize your role. I get absolutely distraught when women minimize themselves.

Issues in AgVocacy panel

I still wouldn’t call myself a farmHer, but Cristen’s statement gave me a gut check when it comes to minimizing myself in the AgVocacy arena. Farmers aren’t the only ones with a right to stick up for modern agriculture and they certainly shouldn’t have to carry that weight alone. My story may be different from theirs, but I can help pull them along. I can play a bigger role than just sitting on the sidelines cheering them on. And I will. Didn’t I just say agriculture needs every voice it can get?

4. Passion over perfection

This one should probably be taped to my forehead. As I listened to Barbara Siemen describe reinventing herself after a legal battle over her blog name, one thing she stressed was that she had to learn to strive for passion over perfection.

This one hits home for me, especially when it comes to blogging. I can’t tell you how many post drafts have never been published because I didn’t feel they were good enough. I tend to go over and over sentences, formatting, and wondering what people reading will think to the point that I get frustrated or burned out and never finish. Of course I don’t want to publish trash that isn’t meaningful or thought out, but I’ll be more successful if I concentrate on letting my passion shine through rather than accomplishing complete perfection. So thank you, Barbara. If it wasn’t for you this post would probably be collecting dust in my drafts with all the others.

As always, AgChat provided me with some great tips to become a better advocate for agriculture and I left the conference motivated and recharged. I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to meet so many inspirational members of my agriculture tribe and humbled by the bigger lessons I learned. While almost all of these lessons are meant to be applied to AgVocacy, there are clear applications in life as well.

Did you attend AgChat’s 2016 Cultivate & Connect Conference? Let me know some of your biggest takeaways below!

written by Hannah Neuenschwander

Farmer2Farmer, data and a football coach

Farmers Business Network (FBN) held their Farmer2Farmer conference in Omaha, NE this week. FBN is a startup company shaking up the world of farm data while making waves in how farmers can purchase inputs for their farms. A reception the evening before the conference was capped off by long time Nebraska head football coach and U.S. Congressman Dr. Tom Osborne. The first day of the conference was populated by a host of guest speakers and panelist with a Farmer2Farmer - FarmersBusiness Networkfocus towards farmers as entrepreneurs. Main stage speakers included the likes of Nebraska governor Pete Ricketts, Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson, and AOL founder Steve Case. FBN co-founders Charles Baron and Amol Deshpande offered their insights on FBN as a distruptive force in the industry.

Panels focused on farmers who are finding success outside the boundaries of raising crops as their sole income. Illinois farmer Jamie Walter spoke about his Whiskey Acres venture. In addition to farming Jamie started the second of only two distilleries in the country that are based on working farms. I happened to sit my by Jamie at breakfast the next day, and he was ecstatic about an article just posted touting his bourbon as one of the best bourbons to buy under $50 for the holidays. He was especially thrilled that his was the only one on the list not from Kentucky. Another panelist was Andrew Fansler from Shelbyville, Indiana. Andrew is a first generation farmer who started with 42 acres at age 14. Fansler spoke about how he felt confident in becoming a full time farmer because if he failed he would only fail himself and not generations of farmers before him. He praised generational farmers for what they have done to persevere their family legacy. Walter and Fansler were just two of many farmer innovators who spoke at Farmer2Farmer.

Managing-Family-Businesses-F2F16-PanelDay 2 focused on what FBN provides to member farmers. The basis of FBN is members submitting planting, application, and harvest data. Once a member submits data, access to all the crop data on FBN is opened. Farmers can then dig through yield, population, soil, temperature, planting date info, and more and see how their operations compare across the United States, their home state, or just the region closest to them. They can drill down through other filters like whether or not acres viewed are irrigated or not. FBN says most farmers only get 40 seasons worth of data from their own farms to work with. Through aggregation of data, FBN farmers can see how the varieties they plant perform across 10,000 seasons of combined data. This information can inform future decisions on the farm like what seeds perform the best on a particular soil type.

The other facet of FBN is price transparency and product procurement. This was the focus of the Farmer Business Network's Farmer2Farmer conference 2016second day. By uploading invoices for seed, fertilizer, and chemicals to FBN farmers will gain access to the range of prices paid for those same products by other members who have submitted their pricing. All the data submitted and seen by others is of course anonymized. And through FBN’s procurement program farmers can buy chemical inputs like herbicide and fungicide directly from FBN instead of through traditional retail methods. There are no volume discounts on these purchases meaning farmers large or small pay the same price for inputs. The members of FBN essentially form a large buying group. FBN calls this method of procurement and data analysis the democratization of farming.

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This blog post is part of a sponsorship of the AgChat Foundation by Farmer Business Network. All views and opinions are those of ACF Board member, Brian Scott, who attended FBN’s Farmer2Farmer conference 2016. 

Avoiding Social Media Burnout

Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, YouTube, you name it, there’s a social media platform out there for it. So many in fact it can feel more than overwhelming to need to be a part of all of them. Here’s my little piece of advice to avoid feeling the social media burn out. You don’t have to be on every platform.

home-office-336378_960_720Every platform is different. Bringing it’s own style, audience and interaction. Each one feels a little bit different. As you go through your journey of Agvocating more than likely you are going to gravitate towards the platforms you feel most comfortable with. When you are familiar and at home with the platform it really allows your true voice to shine through. Instead of worrying about the platform you can focus on the story you want to tell.

It’s ok to say no! There’s definitely a feeling that if you aren’t on every platform you are missing an audience or won’t get noticed. At the same time if it feels like torture to keep up with a platform, then it’s perfectly fine to utilize other routes or just not have a presence there. For myself as Guernsey Dairy Mama I have a hate, love relationship with Twitter. 140 characters and fast paced, it’s just not my style and you wont see me very often tweeting anything original. I found another route with Twitter by linking my Facebook posts. That way I’m findable on Twitter, but don’t have to put effort into a platform I don’t enjoy. There are plenty of other Agvocates out there rocking Twitter, and I am a ok with that!

Social Media should be fun and enjoyable. When you take on too platforms it tends to take the fire out of telling your story. Pick the platforms you enjoy the most and stick to those. When you are enjoying what you’re sharing that enthusiasm will show through those posts.

Don’t let all the platforms under the sun create an eclipse for your social media journey. Pick your favorites, stick to what feels true to you, and rock it! That way you won’t feel burnt out with platforms you don’t even enjoy. Leaving you more time to focus on sharing your story.

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Darleen SichleyDarleen Sichley is a third generation dairy farmer in Oregon. Her passion and dedication for the dairy industry comes from wanting to see it sustain for future generations, she believes a part of that is now bridging the gap with consumers by telling her story. She blogs about life with 3 generations working together everyday for the best care possible of their Guernsey Ladies.

You can also follow her on Facebook,  Instagram and Twitter.

Why Do I AgVocate? – Ashley Messing-Kennedy

What is your role in agriculture?

I am the 3rd generation on my family’s dairy farm where I work with my parents to manage the animals.

What was your inspiration for becoming an agvocate?

I have always loved writing. It was a creative release for me for years, then I found a group of farmers that were involved in social media and I realized I could combine my love of writing with my love of farming. That was the birth of my first blog 8 years ago!

What is your favorite part about being an agvocate?

I love how many relationships I have gained. I have very close friends all across the country thanks to agvocating.

What is the most challenging part of being an agvocate?

The Internet is such an anonymous place. So many people think they can say whatever they want and there are no consequences. Often people type things they would never say something they would never say to a persons face. I find the lack of etiquette and kindness to be challenging.

What advice for other farmer/ranchers who would like to become more involved in agvocacy?

Find something you enjoy but don’t take on too much. We all have a lot to do between our families and jobs, don’t feel like you need to do everything.

What is your biggest takeaway or memory from an AgChat event or Twitter chat?

I will never forget attending the first AgChat conference in Chicago. Getting to meet all of these people in real life was amazing!

What does the AgChat Foundation mean to you?

They took my blogging to a whole new level by providing me with resources and the ability to network.

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Ashley Messy KennedyAshley is a millennial, wife, mom and a dairy farmer. Ashley, her husband, Eric, and daughter Calli live on the dairy farmer she grew up on. As the 3rd generation on the family farm Ashley and her husband are the caretakers of the animals and the farm. In addition to farming Ashley loves reading, cooking, beauty, home DIY and training for 5k races.

You can follow Ashley on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest.

What the Well-Dressed AgVocate Wears for Travel

So – I am highly extroverted, can talk to a tree stump, and love, love, love to talk about food and farming. And I travel somewhat frequently for business, and sometimes for pleasure.

Being so overly outgoing, I sometimes… well, I make people very… alert. Especially introverts. So, in order to meet them at a point of comfortable conversation for both of us, I’ve taken to making my opening statement through my wardrobe. They may then decide to engage in conversation, or not.

RaeI travel in T-shirts, unless my schedule is packed so tightly that I have to deplane and hit a meeting. Sometimes I wear one anyway. The AGvocacy community is tightly-knit, so in addition to my Kentucky shirts (So God Made A Kentucky Farmer), I have “Pigs: the Inventors of Bacon” from RealPigFarming, the National Pork Checkoff. I have “Baconista” from the Kansas Soybean Board and Kansas Pork Board partnership. I have “Don’t Fear Your Food” and “Make Food Choices Based on Facts, Not Fear,” from the CommonGround program.

Several of my farmer friends have gifted me with logo shirts, because they know I will wear them proudly. I have some LeCows shirts from my Holstein-loving friends in Paducah, Kentucky, and “Fall on the Farm” shirts from Murray State University. The Hutson School of Ag also provided a shirt with one of Thomas Jefferson’s famous quotes about farming.

The bacon shirts start great conversations about antibiotics, hormones, farrowing crates and gestation stalls – really anything CAFO – while the dairy shirts are great for conversations about lactose intolerance, added hormones and antibiotics in milk, and how we keep milk clean. I’ve had several conversations about cow comfort and educated folks that there are actually such things as “cow butt scratchers.” Oh the places you’ll go, oh the things you’ll learn!

Wearing your topic of choice literally on your body is a great way to start conversations, and I would venture to guess this technique would work just as well for introverts as it does for me.

Nerd trip tip: always travel with business cards and at least a small stash of literature in your carry-on, easily accessible. Mass media and social media are wonderful ways to share our story, but those one-on-one conversations are memorable and hard to beat.

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Rae Wagoner is Director of Communication for the Kentucky Soybean Board and the Kentucky Soybean Association, and has found her career to be what she calls the “RGDJ” (redneck girl’s dream job) on her blog. Rae has always lived the rural lifestyle and jokes that she’s only ever dated one guy who didn’t wear the blue corduroy jacket… and THAT was a mistake! She resides in western Kentucky with her husband, Sutton, and her wiener dog, Savannah Jane., and enjoys reading, cowboy boots, wine and photography… not necessarily in that order.

Make sure to follow Rae on her blog, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest.

The Chick Wire: Connecting With Consumers Through a Podcast

Recently, I went through a change. No, it wasn’t a mid-life crisis; I’m not quite there yet! But, I did have to change my name. It wasn’t a divorce or remarriage either. I’m still annoying the same guy I have been for the last 15 years. I had to change my social media handle and website name. For several years I was known as Farm Barbie, now I’m the founder of The Chick Wire.

The Chick WireThe Chick Wire is a network of women that shares values, cultivates understanding, and inspires without judgment. That’s the overall mission statement. Now, how I go about achieving that mission is by interviewing amazing women in any career, hobby, or life story for my podcast. These “chicks” tell me their story as I interview them using values-based messaging, which in turn leads the listeners to understand and hopefully be inspired to some course of action in their own life.

Let’s face it: there’s enough bad news, nasty trolls, and awful weather and commodity prices to make your head explode. That’s why I decided to use my legal struggle and name change to be a literal voice for agriculture and promote some positivity and good in the world while integrating information about ag.

It feels like it’s always us (farmers and ranchers) against them (consumers). My lofty goal is to stop the game of Us vs. Them, and instead create a big ol’ happy campfire we can all sing Kumbaya around. With each chick I interview, I’m reaching a new audience. Her family, friends, and colleagues are tuning in to hear her episode. They decide they like it and maybe listen to a few more, or they subscribe to my podcast on iTunes and listen to the newest episode every week. It’s a slow integration of anyone from any walk of life, but I think and hope it will be the game changer of ag-understanding in this country. As each chick is telling her story, I’m adding in snippets of my own story, my farm, or things I’ve learned from other farmer friends. Listeners hear a little bit every week about farmers and farming, and can slowly begin to trust me as a voice for agriculture, and overall trust the American farmer like they used to.

Podcasting is very underrepresented in agriculture. Many folks don’t even know what a podcast is! I can think of only a handful of podcasts that even have something to do with farmers or farming. It’s a form of media that is quickly developing, and in fact, podcasting is the new it-thing, especially with millennials. Case in point: my husband (39 years old) still listens to our local AM radio station because it’s the only station he can get in many of our tractors. Once I showed him how to use the podcast app on his iPhone, and search and subscribe to podcasts like mine, he began listening to different types of podcasts all the time. I like to fold laundry, sweep floors, cook, and drive the kids to practices and games with a podcast playing in my pocket. I’m learning something while being entertained and getting my work done at the same time, which is much better than just listening to music. I’m a big fan of podcasts!

Now, down to the nuts and bolts of podcasting: it’s actually pretty easy once you get the hang of it! I must admit, I didn’t figure it all out on my own. I hired a small business technology consulting firm to help me get started, and they showed me how to do it all. I use a quality hand-held voice recorder for my in-person interviews, and Skype with a set of headphones for my phone-call interviews. I have Garage Band on my Mac, which I use to create and edit an episode. I manage my website using squarespace, and simply upload the audio file to my blog page, along with pictures and show notes, and it’s automatically connected to iTunes. In fact, iTunes has tons of helpful and handy guides to help you get started. The hardest part is actually conducting the interview with the chick, because I’m not a journalist or a professional interviewer. I’m just a mom on a mission. A big company thought they could silence me, but they didn’t know whom they were dealing with. They might have won the battle over a name, but they didn’t win the war over me. Agriculture is something worth fighting for and this Barbie has a lot more fight in her!

Have you heard of The Chick Wire Show yet? If not, feel free to head on over to iTunes (or wherever you want to listen to podcasts), and simply search “The Chick Wire.” You can listen to one episode at a time, or subscribe and automatically listen to the latest “chick” show every time I release a new episode.

Thanks for tuning in! Toodaloo!

Staying Positive When Times Are Tough on the Farm

As a young girl I always dreamed of owning my own farm/ranch. I grew up on my parent’s hobby farm bucking square bales and riding/driving our Minneapolis Moline tractor. Who knew that my life would turn out the way it has. Marrying an immigrant from England, that also had the same dream of owning and operating a farm. Now, 2 kids later, we are a first generation farm family. But it just didn’t land at our feet. Just kind of like advocating for what we do every day. It started just to keep my husband’s family in the loop of what we were doing. Then it was the pull of the consumer wanting to know how and what we do on the farm. That’s when writing and pictures became more important than ever.

Stressed WomanThen the down markets. With all highs, come lows, and that doesn’t exclude markets or the farm life. Recently I was struggling on how to keep going with advocating. All I wanted to do was focus on our family and the farm. Nothing good was happening, and farming didn’t seem fun anymore. Not when you’re getting paid pennies for all the work and hours spent sowing and reaping the crops we took time on. Why would I want to share our emotional stress? Nobody cares. Would they think that we’re just whining? Would they understand? How do I convey the feeling of the unknowing of how we’re going to make it through?

Farming isn’t always the romantic rosy picture, we know that. Consumers need to know that too. Being a true farmer and a true optimist go hand in hand. It’s having the bravery and tenacity to keep moving forward. Consumers need to see our good, bad, and ugly. Don’t be hesitant to share your story. Share your emotional pull toward the land, and what you do.

Hope is the best medicine for our future. Let’s show them that.

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Jenny BurgessJenny Burgess is a Farmer who farms with her husband and two children in the heart of central Kansas. She grew up on a hobby farm not too far from where she raises her family now. The only child, she learned the true meaning of hard work. From bucking bales, feeding animals, and driving antique tractors, she was a girl who tried to keep up with her dad with the chores. She met her husband, who was from England, and eventually got married. They both had the dream of owning their own farm. Today that dream still lives and is growing, along with two kids. They grow Wheat, Corn, Soybeans, and Milo, all dryland crops.

Follow Jenny on her blog, Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.

Ask Yourself These Three Questions Before Responding to Your Ag Customers

If you’ve been to any ag meetings or conferences over the past few years, you’ve heard the message that we should all be talking to people about farming, food and ag online,  in person, or at community events, etc…

And sometimes, at good conferences, they will even go into the “what” you should be talking to them about. So you might hear them say (and I’ve said this too) you need to be talking about:

  •      Animal Care
  •      Family Values
  •      Farm Technology
  •      Sustainability and the Environment
  •      Food Safety
  •      Good Farming Practices
  •      Employee Relations

And they might want you to address some of the controversial subjects like antibiotics, hormones, GMOs and animal treatment.

But what I don’t see a lot of talk about is “how” you could talk. In other words, what should your tone and manner be when you want to have an engaging conversation with your customer about ag.

When it comes these conversations, I suggest you try this three question approach.

  1.     What am I trying to accomplish with this conversation?
  2.     How am I seeing them?
  3.     How do I want them to see me?

And this is where I think a lot of potentially good conversations go off the rails. I don’t think either conversation participant has thought these questions through and what began as a conversation turns into a war of words that someone needs to “win”.

But if we use the above approach when it comes to communicating, you can see how it will shape our tone.Starwars

Let’s do an example.

You are on Facebook and you share a positive dairy farming story about cow care on your Facebook page.

dairy farmA question pops up from a person.

Someone writes on the page. “Don’t you think it’s better to have cows on the pasture to keep them cool?”

Now because almost all farmers I know do animal care differently (some on pasture and some not) this question could be considered a threat. I would always recommend clicking through to the person’s profile to see if they are a threat or not. Usually it’s pretty easy to tell if they are against animal ag. But let’s say they are not. They just have a question.

So you have to ask yourself: What am I trying to accomplish with this conversation?

I believe that it would be every farmer’s desire to have this person trust what the article says about dairy cows and technology and trust them as a dairy farmer taking care of cows.

What do people trust? They trust people that are experts in their field, that share their knowledge and that are consistent and reliable in what they share. Farmers have a lot of trust already (food and ag especially farmers test high in credibility and authority, according to Gallup.)

So, let’s answer the second question.

How am I seeing them? When it comes to your customers, you need to be honest with yourself in how you see them. When I speak at ag conferences and I show images of young urban millennials doing millennial things (snapchatting, hanging in coffee shops, shopping at a farmer’s market, etc.) I get a few snide remarks and put downs. If that’s how you think of your customers, then it will have a negative effect on the conversation.

So how should you see your customers? They are the heroes of this conversation. What? I didn’t say they were the heroes of your life and you need to be following their lead. What I’m trying to say is that when you are speaking with them, they are concerned with themselves – they are the heroes of their lives.

This brings us to the final questions, how do I want them to see me?

In most stories and movies, what does a hero almost always need to achieve his goal. You got it, a guide. Someone who knows how to help the hero – someone who loves the hero and, in a lot of movies, someone who sacrifices themselves for the sake of the hero.

I think you should consider yourself the hero’s good guide to good food production and good farming practices.

Your customers need someone to guide them. Someone they can trust that knows animals and the land. And this goes right along with other images that they hold about farmers – hard-working, strong, wholesome, happy and tough. You can see that image displayed most often in pickup truck ads like this Dodge one.

There’s an analogy I love to use in class mostly because almost everyone I know has seen the movies, Star Wars.

Your customers are like Luke Skywalkers. They are on a quest for good food that they don’t have to feel guilty about. They want to make sure the food they are serving their families is healthy, tastes great and wasn’t produced by the Evil Empire.

You are like Obi-Wan, a Jedi knight/farmer who knows the ways of good farming and great animal care. You show them insights (I’m not a fan of “educating” people on ag – the term, I believe, is often used in a condescending way by some ag leaders) into how you farm and why you do it that way.

But if you think of yourselves as Obi-Wan’s, then the tone and your attitude change. You don’t ever attack Luke. You are patient and thorough. You use clear language and you never put them down. You want them to be the hero – to rise up with their new information and share it with others because they trust you and your knowledge.

Is it tough to be Obi-Wan? Yes, of course, it is. But does it leave an impression on Luke? You bet it does. Will you still get attacked by negativity? Yes, but Obi-Wan always took the high road because that’s the road of integrity and trust.

via GIPHY

Would you like help in being more like Obi-Wan? You can always reach out directly to me via don.schindler@dairy.org or contact your local State and Regional dairy checkoffs.

Would you like to spread more positive dairy stories on your social media pages and profiles? Please join the Dairy Amplification Center. This mobile and web application allows you to share positive dairy stories (that are updated almost daily) to your social feeds with just one click.

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don-schindler-pic-262x272Don Schindler is the Senior Vice President of Digital Innovations at DMI. Don has been teaching farmers, staff and the dairy industry how to connect with consumers using social media and digital marketing for the past three years. He’s also responsible for new digital technologies at DMI. Before coming to DMI, Don directed the Communications team at the University of Notre Dame and taught classes at the Mendoza College of Business at ND. He grew up on beef and row crop farm in southeast Missouri.

7 Ways for Farmers to Get Involved in Their Local Community

I don’t think there are many occupations that are more busy than farming. On our farm, we have many days that start in the early morning and go to late at night. There is always something that needs tending to on the farm.

But even though we are busy, it’s important for all of us to find time to be involved in organizations—both ag and non-ag. Even if you only choose one organization, be involved.

Why should you be involved?

Our voice is important.

We have a unique and special perspective that is needed today. And not only that, our involvement can make a difference. Sometimes terrible decisions are made today because the decision-makers don’t know how their decisions affect agriculture. The phrase I hear often is, “if you are not at the table, you will be on the table.”

And that’s why we need to be at the table.

In addition, the personal networking and connections are priceless. We talk often in agvocacy about needing to reach outside the choir. Being involved in non-ag organizations allows agriculture to network and connect with many non-ag people.

Here is a list of seven reasons on how you can be involved and why it’s important:

  1. Join agricultural boards or organizations. These organizations allow you an opportunity to give input into areas that affect you directly. The list of potential ag organizations and boards are endless: Commodity organizations (local, state, national), or other ag-related organizations like Farm Bureau, Farmers Union, CommonGround. Choose what area you are interested in and make it known to others that you are interested. Organizations welcome enthusiastic and willing people to participate.
  2. Join your local Chamber of Commerce. Say what? “Why do I want to be a member of the Chamber of Commerce? That is for city businesses.” Because we are a business, something we cannot forget. We need to share our voice with our city counterparts.
  3. Be active in your school. Whether it means helping out in your children’s school rooms, chaperoning a school field trip, being a member or running for a position on your local PTL or run for your local school board. Why is this important? Being involved in your school is another way to reach outside the choir and network with those in charge of educating our children. Think of agriculture education. Think of the fairness of property taxes which fund schools. We need an ag voice in our education system.
  4. Civic organizations. Join your local Kiwanis or Rotary clubs. Not only is it fun but you are giving back to your community through service projects. A great way to connect with non-ag people to share your story.
  5. Government entities. Consider running for your township board, county commissioner or state or federal representatives. Decisions are made in our government and many those decisions affect ag adversely. People just don’t know what they don’t know. Agriculture absolutely needs to be there.
  6. Church. Be active and volunteer in your church. There is a special bond with people who share their religious commonality with each other. Church involvement may not directly affect agriculture but it’s another avenue to connect both ag and non-ag people by praying and sharing fellowship with each other.
  7. baseball-1488004_960_720Coach. If you are interested in sports or other coaching events, please volunteer. It’s a nice release from the day-to-day activities on the farm and volunteers are always needed. So what does this have to do with agriculture? Absolutely nothing. And that’s the point. A great way to connect with non-ag people.

One thing that makes our nation special is the amount of volunteering and participating we do. It really is unique compared to other nations. Being involved allows us the quality of life we have come to treasure. And for agriculture, by being involved we can contribute to that quality of life and also give our perspective on issues, which we all know is desperately needed and important for our nation and for agriculture to thrive.

So let’s become involved.

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WandaWanda is a wife, mother and grandmother from south central Minnesota who farms with her husband, Chuck. They have 3 daughters and 5 grandchildren. In addition to their family, they raise hogs, corn and soybeans. With a passion for agriculture, Wanda is also a blogger talking about the topics most close to her heart – agriculture and living in rural Minnesota. Wanda’s main responsibilities are helping with the crops in both spring and fall, in addition to being responsible for the accounting functions on the farm.